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AT&T-Time Warner Trial: Judge Declines to Remove DirecTV as Defendant

WASHINGTON — The federal judge in the AT&T-Time Warner antitrust trial has denied an effort to remove DirecTV as a named defendant in the case.

On Friday, he rejected a motion brought by DirecTV, which AT&T acquired in a deal that closed in 2015.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon offered no reason for his decision.

The Justice Department has been seeking to enter into the record a series of documents made by DirecTV in FCC filings about other mergers, in which the company seemingly validates the government’s argument that vertically integrated transactions can be anticompetitive.

In its original complaint seeking to block the merger, the DOJ noted that DirecTV has warned that vertically integrated companies can “much more credibly threaten to withhold programming from rival” distributors and “use such threats to demand higher prices and more favorable terms.”

DirecTV claimed that the DOJ’s “real motivation” for naming it as a defendant was to “bolster the government’s ability to seek the admission of hearsay statements made by DirecTV before AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015, such as statements made about the Comcast-NBCU transaction as far back as 2010. Those statements, however, are inadmissible against AT&T and Time Warner, the only proper parties to this action.”

The Justice Department, however, said that such statements could be entered into evidence regardless of whether DirecTV was a named defendant. It contended that the government “has presented evidence that DirecTV’s combination with Time Warner is the principal source of anticompetitive harm arising out of the challenged transaction. Put another way, but for AT&T’s ownership of DirecTV, the United States would not have brought this case.”

On Thursday, the DOJ attempted to enter a binder of AT&T and DirecTV documents into evidence, including past filings with the FCC, but the companies raised objections. Leon asked that the DOJ pare down the material before he makes a ruling.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Monday.

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